Securitization, Surveillance and ‘De-extremization’ in Xinjiang

Stephanie Kam and Michael Clarke, “Securitization, Surveillance and ‘De-extremization’ in Xinjiang,” International Affairs 97, no. 3 (2021): 625–642


Stephanie Kam and Michael Clarke argue that the state’s social engineering project in Xinjiang has emerged out of a confluence of factors, including a post-911 approach to surveillance, the increased application of technology in governance, and the leadership of Xi Jinping and Chen Quanguo, who was appointed party secretary of Xinjiang in 2016. They warn that the state’s successes in the region may serve as a model for even more repressive and intrusive governance, both within China and abroad.


Previous explanations on China’s counterterrorism strategy have highlighted the results of China’s strategy of repression in Xinjiang, the historical antecedents and institutional foundations of its counterterrorism policies, as well as international and domestic sources of China’s counterterrorism strategy. While acknowledging the importance of all these dimensions, this article draws attention to a largely neglected feature of China’s counterterrorism strategy: the Chinese party-state’s social engineering of Xinjiang. Building on Maoist-era practices such as the mass line and the ‘friend vs. enemy’ binary, the Communist party under Xi Jinping has integrated surveillance technologies as part of its strategy of preventive counterterrorism and ‘de-extremization’. This article argues that the Chinese party-state’s embrace of modern technologies, a weak liberal tradition in China, Xi Jinping’s rise to power in late 2012, and the appointment of Chen Quanguo as Xinjiang’s party-secretary in 2016, provides the socio-political background for the intensification of securitization, surveillance and introduction of ‘re-education and training centres’ in Xinjiang. Surveillance technologies now complement collective, face-to-face methods of surveillance and Maoist-era techniques of mass mobilization, enabling the Chinese party-state to govern and manage the biopolitical spaces of Uyghurs with greater intensity, according to the state’s precise norms. The legalization and institutionalization of ‘de-extremization’ has also led to the shift from mass ‘de-extremization’ propaganda to ‘drip-irrigation’ ideological and political re-education of individuals deemed at risk of extremism. The result is an increased capacity by the Chinese party-state to surveil and control the region, and to more effectively negate the possibility of individual resistance.

Keywords: Security, Surveillance, Technology